We Shadowed 35 Students: Here is What We Learned about Our Classrooms

Shadow A Student Challenge Learned 2

In our last “Here is What We Learned” article we looked at ways to improve student relationship and connection.  In addition to insights on relating to students, the Shadow a Student Challenge participants also made some observations about how we can improve the student experience in the classroom.  Many of the observations made were drawn from great examples participants observed in the classrooms they visited; others were reflections made by participants on their own teaching and what they realized by sitting in the seat of a student again.

These are the top three tips and takeaways about the classroom from the Shadow a Student Challenge:

Teach students in a way that develops their self-efficacy and confidence

Man wearing black adidas jacket sitting on chair near the middle of the roll Within the first few minutes of a class on circuits, Dr. Tim Peterson found himself grappling with his own self-efficacy and confidence.  Because he was outside his field of knowledge, he didn’t want to raise his hand and risk embarrassment of being wrong about something. Read more about his experience in our interview with Tim Peterson.

If something like this can happen to a seasoned professor, how must students feel in the classroom?  What opportunities for discussion do classes miss out on daily because students aren’t confident enough in their knowledge and abilities to allow questions to be brought up?  Dr. Peterson’s conclusion was that we need to help build the self-efficacy and confidence of our students.

Psychologist Albert Bandura developed the concept of self-efficacy as a way to describe how an individual perceives their ability to deal with life tasks and challenges.1  People with high self-efficacy believe they can succeed at tasks, and according to author Elsie Jones-Smith, “a large number of empirical studies supports Bandura’s position that our beliefs concerning our own personal efficacy touch virtually every aspect of our lives (p. 173).”1 By helping our students build self-efficacy, we not only help them perform better as students, but we also equip them with a wider array of potential across their entire life experience.

Small changes in classroom design can make a big difference

When we think about redesigning our class or making changes to it, it can become overwhelming really fast.  We all know that it’s important to update our materials and revisit how we’re teaching, but time is scarce and making changes can take a lot of time, right?

"Changes don’t need to be huge to make a difference.”

The reality is, changes don’t need to be huge to make a difference.  James Lang, author of “Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning,” writes about the little changes that can be made in a classroom and the huge impact those small changes can have on student success.  And these changes come without a course overhaul.”2  Lang states that these small changes can be as simple as brief classroom or online learning activities, one-time interventions in a course, or small changes in course design or communication with students.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to do this, you can contact the NDSU Instructional Design team.  Information can be found here.

Make room for emotion in the classroom; it leads to learning

People taking group picture

At first glance the thought of bringing emotion into the classroom may seem like a bad idea, but truthfully the classroom is the perfect place for engagement with emotion.  In a review of several articles related to using emotion in the classroom, Russ Vince, a professor of Leadership and Change in the United Kingdom, reflects on the many ways that emotion can be used successfully to enhance learning in students.3 Some of these methods include discussing reactions to emotionally evocative material, selecting materials to cover that connect with students on an emotional level, and practicing active emotional management with students to improve their emotional intelligence.

Emotional connection is a motivator for students; if it’s something they care about, they’re going to sit up and listen.  Maybe even more importantly, they’re going to remember what it is they learned through association with the strength of the emotion.

Some other tips that came from participant observations include:

  • Incorporate active learning, regardless of your classroom design
  • Do what you can to make a large class feel smaller
  • Encourage students to sit in the front row, especially those who need more help
  • Don’t be afraid to make students leaders in the classroom
  • Empower seasoned students to take leadership roles
  • Be organized to maximize your time and help your class run smoothly
  • Upload to and open Blackboard early so students can get a head start and acclimate to your class
  • Review what you’re doing to see if it’s working
  • Update your classes regularly
  • Get mid-semester feedback so you can make adjustments, make those adjustments, and communicate to the students why you are or are not making changes
  • One small glitch can put a class into a tailspin; be prepared for technology to fail

We would love to hear what you think about these takeaways.  Comment below with your thoughts and ideas.


  1. Jones-Smith, E. (2016). Theories of counseling and psychotherapy: An integrative approach. Los Angeles: SAGE.
  2. Lang, J. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  3. Vince, R. (2016). Emotion and learning. Journal of Management Education, 40(5), 538-544. doi: 10.1177/1052562916643992

About the author:

Amy Tichy

Amy Tichy is pursuing her M.Ed. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at NDSU.  She graduated with a Master of Arts in Theatre with a concentration in Drama Therapy from Kansas State University (2014), where she was a Graduate Teaching Assistant, lecturing 6 credits of Public Speaking per semester, and with a Bachelor of Science in History Education and Theatre Education from Dickinson State University (2010).  Amy is a licensed teacher and a Registered Drama Therapist.  She works in the Office of Teaching and Learning as a Graduate Assistant.

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Created2023-09-27 09:19:14Updated2023-09-27 10:17:37
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